Sometimes second is good enough, but more often than not, it really isn’t. Especially, of course, not in the world of sports, and football is certainly no exception. Recently two coaches, Rudi Garcia and Julen Lopetegui, were given their marching orders by Roma and Porto respectively after the club’s hierarchy decided to head in a new direction. For Lopetegui, despite guiding the Dragons to a second placed finish during the 2014/2015 season, the writing had long been on the wall. Last term saw the Portuguese giants humiliated 6-1 by a rampant Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals second leg – undoing their hard work after winning the first leg 3-1 – which was their worst ever showing in European competition.
Still, despite finishing that campaign sans silverware, the ex-Barcelona goalkeeper was given another half-chance at the start of this season to get things right. But, after seeing Porto crash out of the Champions League, a shock reversal against Maritimo in the Taca da Liga and having slipped into third after a loss and a draw, club president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa decided he had seen enough and pulled the plug on the Lopetegui project at Porto. Since Lopetegui’s sacking on January 8th, Porto experienced an upward tick in results – not often unseen after a manager’s departure – as they cruised to a 5-0 win over Boavista and ground out a 1-0 victory over the same opponent three days later in the Taca da Liga.
However, they were brought crashing back down to earth as they suffered a 1-0 reversal to Vitória Guimarães this Sunday, leaving them firmly back in the same place they were prior to Lopetegui’s dismissal: third.
Meanwhile, Garcia began his tenure with Roma brightly enough, leading the Lupi to an impressive second placed finish in his debut campaign. It was during the 2013/2014 term that the Giallorossi set a new record for the most consecutive wins at the start of a season, with ten straight on the bounce to break the previously set record of nine established by Juventus during the 2005/2006 season. Despite this, it was not enough to unseat the Bianconeri as champions of Italy, but the capital club nonetheless experienced their best campaign in recent times, finishing in second with 85 points and qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since the 2010/2010 footballing year.
The French tactician’s sophomore term would be an exact repeat of his first year, more or less: Roma again finished second to Juventus – interestingly again by 17 points – and without any silverware, but the team’s fans and board, encouraged by seeing the Lupi again among the top three sides backed the former Lille boss for a third term. Of course, this campaign came with more expectations – to improve in the Champions League and not just aspire to clinch the Scudetto, but to actually win it. After all, it’s not fun always being the bridesmaid, but never the bride, and after two straight runners-up titles, Roma were determined to finally see themselves on the winners’ podium in May 2016.
Things started brightly off enough, and coupled with Juve’s early struggles, Roma found themselves on top of the Serie A table after matchday nine. However, that was short-lived, as by November, a poor run of form saw them tumbling down the table into fifth. In the Champions League, they started off well after holding Barcelona to an impressive 1-1 draw in a match many had figured would be a rout.
Yet, things quickly began to unravel in European competition as well as they were not just humiliated by the Blaugrana in the reverse fixture at Camp Nou, but after some shocking displays, including a loss to Belarusian outfit BATE, they barely scraped into the round of 16 with six points – the lowest of any team in the knock-out rounds. And finally, in the Coppa Italia, they were disgraced by lower-tier outfit Spezia who dumped them out of penalties which effectively put an end to Garcia’s tenure at the Stadio Olimpico.
Although it took until January 13th for him to be handed his dismissal papers, it came as no surprise given that Roma had won just one out of their past ten games across all competitions. Luciano Spaletti has now arrived for his second spell with the club, but will have to wait till matchday 21 for his first win as the Giallorossi were fortunate to survive a late scare against Hellas Verona and hang on for a point.
Clearly, the sackings of Lopetegui and Garcia showed that for Porto and Roma, second merely was not enough. Interestingly, their replacements Rui Barros and Spaletti now find themselves with a mountain to climb – given that their teams are in third and fifth respectively – if they want to at least match those same results produced by their predecessors. And it will be indeed interesting to see how things pan out for both over the next upcoming months as to whether Porto and Roma end up better or worse off by the time the curtain closes on the 2015/2016 seasons for the Primeira Liga and Serie A this May.